This summer was very difficult for me. Summer is a difficult time of year for me anyways. Daniel and Robert are home and usually at each others’ throats. They have that uniquely fraternal knack for pushing buttons. The energy level in our house seems to hit the ceiling and the girls respond by being more hyper, tiring easily and being whiny. A lack of structure takes it toll.
During past summers, I have tried to create and maintain structure by having organized activities, required reading, academic pursuits (math or science projects) and field trips to the library and museums. Daniel hates that I would require reading or multiplication so there is always a lot of conflict. Since Daniel turned 12, there has been enough conflict as it is – just asking him to shut the door. Recently, even asking him to read at all has mushroomed into full scale melt downs. Daniel’s attitude has been simple, “I just can’t do it. I am not a reader.” I was discouraged, so was Daniel. This summer, I set that all aside in an attempt to make for a relaxed summer with less conflict.
It seemed to be working. Then, on July 23rd, I received Daniel’s FCAT scores. Now, I am not a huge fan of the FCAT. I think it is a poor plan to begin with, however I was surprised to see Daniel’s reading score. Between 3rd and 4th grade, Daniel had increased his reading score by 700 points. Between 4th and 5th grade, his reading score dropped 300 points.
I thought back to the FCAT testing early this spring. I remembered how Daniel seemed very laid back about it compared to previous years. At the time, I thought maybe he had learned to handle the pressure well.
I called Daniel’s ESE Reading Teacher and asked her what her experience had been. She said that if Daniel could easily guess the content of the story by easily identified context words, he would try. Otherwise, he just wouldn’t even try. She had confirmed my experience with him.
I felt this rush of panic. My throat tightened. I could see the dominoes falling. He has to be able to pass the Sophmore FCAT to get a regular diploma. I asked her what she thought of the local middle school’s reading program. I knew she had taken off 2 years to homeschool her special needs son, so I knew she would have some first hand experience.
“At the end of 3 years in their intervention reading program, my son had made no progress at all,” was her reply.
I felt like I wanted to cry.
The following Monday, I started researching the options we had for school alternatives. The first step was to file our intent for the McKay Scholarship. The McKay scholarship is our states take on school of choice. This scholarship allows any child with an IEP to take the money the state provides for their education and use it towards a school of their choice. I filed my letter of intent that first day and hit my first roadblock. It turned out, I had missed the July 3rd deadline to file for the McKay. I could still file, but due to the late filing, could only receive 75% of the money available for my son.
The FCAT results were sent out late this year. There was a letter apologizing for the lateness explaining that there had been questions as to the 5th grade FCAT results statewide that had to be resolved before the FCAT results could be sent. That letter was dated June 28th. However, the postmark on the FCAT was July 21st. If I had received the FCAT in a timely fashion, or even when the letter was dated, the process I was going through would have started in a timely fashion and I would have filed out McKay intent before the deadline. I could choose to fight this but school’s start was looming and by the time I would make any progress, it would be a moot point anyways.
I spent most of the first week calling and meeting with various school administrators. I found a school in the next town over that seemed a perfect fit. The Gap School has a philosophical goal to prepare atypical children for the typical world. Their goal is to work themselves out of a job. They take the approach that they are teaching tools and removing supports as the child masters those tools. They provide support for families and require family involvement. I really liked the practical techniques they used and the way they integrated them into the daily routine. The school was even on the way to my husband’s work. However, with the reduced McKay money, the cost was simply out of our reach.
The following week, I took Daniel to tour the Pinnacle Academy. He loved the group of kids there. Although, it did not seem like the exact fit that the Gap school had, it did seem he could get some significant help. They were more willing to work with us regarding the cost. I felt slightly hopeful. That hope however was tempered by the fact that they school was a 70 mile drive round trip. The entire trip took an hour and a half. I would have to find carpooling or make that trip twice a day.
My husband and I sat down and worked out the cost for the commute. Even with carpooling, it would be expensive. The thought of 3 hours in the car every day with my toddler girls was daunting. We needed a solution that was sustainable and functional for the family as a whole.
I began looking for tutoring options. I spoke with Daniel’s previous ESE Teacher. She had a great rapport with Daniel. She had made significant progress with him in the past and has a real compassion and care for him. She agreed to tutor him. She also lives less than a mile from the Middle School. Daniel could take the bus to her home after school.
Scott and I sat down and started working out the goals we had for Daniel this year. Academically, we wanted him to find some key tools to master reading. Socially, we wanted him to take on a new level of interaction with both peers and authority figures. Developmentally, we wanted him to begin to feel the weight but also the pride of being able to care for himself. Finally, I needed to step back regarding my own intervention with Daniel. I was worn out and emotionally frayed. I did not like the direction my interaction with Daniel was taking. Daniel and I both needed there to be a third party for him to answer to regarding his choices. Daniel was starting to view me as the reason for his problems (consequences) as well as success. We wanted him to see where he had responsibility and power in his own life. With these goals in mind, we decided that using the public Middle School along with tutoring would be our best available option.
We developed the following plan:
Daniel would be 100% responsible for getting himself to school in the morning. We sat down and with very little direction from me, Daniel mapped out a schedule of how he could get from asleep in bed to the bus stop on time. I printed off and laminated that schedule.This is helped by the fact that I have to leave the house nearly an hour before Daniel’s bus in order to take Robert to school. I then head directly to the YMCA to work out. I will not even see Daniel until he returns in the afternoon. If he misses his bus, he will be very late for school. This is something that will impact him with his teachers. No need for mom to lecture.
Daniel would be accountable to his teachers and tutor for his homework. In the past, I have constantly stayed on Daniel about his homework. I have become the nag. This year, I am not checking his homework. I am not reminding him he has to do homework. He has an afternoon schedule (again planned by him) that includes homework. If he does not complete homework, I am sure I will find out via school communication and grades. I want to give Daniel the room to succeed without me. If he misses the mark, it is more in line with the real world for him to answer to teachers than to his mom. Of course, should he come back with an F at the quarter, there will be repercussions at home as well. After all, privileges are the result of responsible choices.
Daniel will be meeting with his tutor twice a week, on Monday to start the week and Thursday to finish out the week. I am hoping this one on one work will be enough to give him a boost in his reading.
Daniel gets to choose his own bedtime on the weekends and his own wake up time every day. Like I said with responsibility comes privileges. If he can be ready in 5 minutes, why shouldn’t he sleep until 5 minutes before he has to leave.
I have given Daniel his tools. It is time for him to start working with them on his own. There will be a learning curve on this for me as well as Daniel. Like watching my child learn to use a spoon, it can be anxious to see the awkward movements, the inaccurate placement. Every fiber of my being wants to step in and do it for them. Now I am making an effort to step back. I have developed some guidelines for myself as I learn to let go.
Rule number 1: Talk less. Most of the time, if I have told Daniel once, I have told him a thousand times, literally. Now, I am working on talking less. Instead, I wait for him to work through it or come to me for help.
Rule number 2: Ask questions? Asking questions is a great way to prompt Daniel’s thinking, if I can keep rule number 1 and let him work through the answer.
Rule number 3: Let him fail, because maybe he will surprise you and succeed. Having watched Daniel struggle so long, I find myself guilty of expecting the worse and trying through controlling behavior to prevent failure. As a result, Daniel expects to be helped the minute it starts to get hard. He really doesn’t ever expect that he can do it on his own. Instead, this year, I am letting him blow it and am already pleasantly surprised to see him find his own successes.
The year is off to mixed start. Daniel has blown off his schedule several times, taking too long in the shower or watching tv in the morning and missed the bus. He has also had mornings when he left 100% on time and still missed the bus. We have differentiated between irresponsibility (watching tv too long) and a learning curve (the bus comes early then listed on the schedule). Daniel has made adjustments and has actually made it to the bus more often than not. There are struggles with the school itself, but that is a post for another day.
I am working on trying to float higher, looking at the big picture and life long tools rather than just an A in 6th grade science.